Warren Miller Entertainment’s 65th annual tribute to winter announces its throwback intentions in a self-consciously campy opening sequence: narrator Jonny Moseley (who seems, probably not as self-consciously, to be channeling Ted “Theodore” Logan) stands outside a Main Street movie house in Anytown, USA, reminiscing about the Warren Miller films he watched as a kid. Retro posters for a few of them hang in the background, and when Moseley wanders in, moviegoers seem to be enjoying an old-school Miller film festival, watching Technicolor ski bunnies reverse leapfrogging and guys in neon gleefully launching spread eagles.
No Turning Back makes a play for some of the same easy charm that characterized those early films. It’s not jokey in the way of the old Warren Miller narration, but it’s definitely a film that worries less about being epic and more about being fun. A quote from the late ski-mountaineering legend Doug Coombs pops up 25 minutes in and might as well be the film’s tagline: “What’s so serious about skiing? It’s really not a serious sport at all.”
All the same, the movie starts out big, on an outing in Alaska’s Chugach Range with freeskiers Ingrid Backstrom and Jess McMillan and heli-guide Chris Anthony. Backstrom’s run down the Sphinx (55 degrees for 1,800 feet) is particularly breathtaking, her elegant turns captured by a sweeping distance shot in a film that elsewhere owes a lot of its slack-jaw factor to GoPro.
There’s plenty to gape at in No Turning Back: see Ueli Kestenholz’s and J.T. Holmes’s wing-assisted POV speedriding through the Alps, or the utterly impossible coastal peaks of Norway’s Lofoten Islands. But more than the topography or, say, Øystein Aasheim and Kaylin Richardson’s lightning runs down those Lofoten peaks, No Turning Back’s heart lies in the duo’s odd-couple banter between runs. It’s in the encounter in a Hokkaido noodle shop between snowboarding giants Seth Wescott and Rob Kingwill and an enthusiastic fan-turned-host, a chance meeting that obliterates the prestige gap between amateurs and pros. And it’s in the bloopers and bumper segments—short, well-edited clips from 64 years of ski films—that remind you why Warren Miller is the spiritual predecessor of America’s Funniest Home Videos, Jackass, and YouTube.
No Turning Back is a movie about fun people who dig playing outside in winter—and oh, they often happen to be doing amazing stuff on planks. No wonder, then, that the movie’s most winning sequence isn’t necessarily its gnarliest: a clutch of competition and industry vets over 40 bombing down couloirs in Chamonix to the tune of the Grateful Dead’s “Touch of Grey.” There are more dramatic and technically eye-popping moments in the film, but none where the skiers’ delight feels as genuine.
Of course, that segment itself echoes another graybeards-in-Chamonix segment from Warren Miller’s 2003 film, Journey. But it’s hard to begrudge the filmmakers their nostalgia when this film’s overriding theme (never mind the title) is that we’re always drawn back, winter after winter, in search of the same stoke.